Tuesday, 8 March 2016

How To Organize Papers

by Kara Went

Stacks of important papers on the kitchen counter? Drawers filled with bills and receipts? Paperwork in the glove box and on the floor of the vehicle? Dreading tax time because all the important papers are scattered about?

Alleviate a lot of stress for yourself by trying my filing system. It is pretty damn easy.

Head out and purchase these two items:

1.     A colour-coded set of hanging folders that are contained.  No loose folders!  

2.     A filing box.  Any kind will do, but get one that can close.

Now, the colour-coded filing system needs to find a place to live that is somewhere you will remember to use it. That place can be the end of the kitchen counter, under the end table in the living room (that is where mine lives), on the end of a desk. Just make sure it is somewhere easy to access.

This colourful filing system is the pre-sort or daily sort. Each person in your house is designated a colour and any paperwork that comes into the house that needs to be dealt with gets put in their folder. Make one colour the “to file later” folder. Now say a bill comes in and you pay it right then, stick it in this folder.  But if a bill comes in but it doesn’t need to be dealt with right away, put it into the coloured folder of the person in charge of paying it. 

In our house, I have the green folder, my husband has the red, and the yellow is our “to file later” folder.

Pick one colour that is strictly for papers you will need for tax time.  Since I live in the Yukon, I have to keep track of a lot of extra papers that go towards taxes. We get a travel perk so I keep hotel receipts, airline travel receipts, etc. There are also two kids in our house, so all receipts for hockey, summer camp, etc. go into this file so we can claim that at tax time.  

Take papers out of the envelopes! Toss the envelopes; they just add to the clutter.

Use the other hanging folders for whatever else is going on in your life. Once a week, open your coloured folder and see what is hiding in there. Deal with what you can. Paperwork that is dealt with gets moved over to the “to file later” folder.

Now, the next part of this organizational fun (yep, I am one of those  I love organization) is the filing box. Remember to write the year on the box, because you are going to keep it for the next five to seven years.

Once a month, clear the kitchen table off and pull out the “to file later” folder. It is now later. File each paper in its spot in the file box. They usually come with pre-made labels, but you can cross them out with a marker and customize them however you like. Now, spend the 20 minutes and file the papers.

If your coloured tax-time folder is getting too full, create a tax spot in the file box and transfer it all over too.

This might seem like a very overwhelming task if you have zero paper organization in your home currently. Set aside part of a day and just round up every piece of paper around the house into one central spot. Use a big box or laundry hamper.  Put on a big pot of coffee or tea, set out snacks, and get to work. Straight up. Just get to work.

At the end of the year stash the file box in the basement and buy a new one. Start the process again!  Keep seven years of your filing (just a recommendation, I hear now that five years is fine too) and when you get to year eight, burn or shred that first year of filing and there is your empty filing box to start anew!  

It may take some time to get used to this new organization, but just think about it as learning a new skill or teaching yourself a very practical habit. 

Happy Organizing!